Rail Deck Park, the city's vision for a signature park stretching across the rail corridor in the heart of downtown, is now expected to cost close to $1.7 billion.

City staff released the new estimate of $1.665 billion on Tuesday morning, ahead of next week's meeting of Mayor John Tory's executive committee. The report notes the estimates are based on "early-stage design concepts," of what could be a very complex plan.

Tory, in a news release, says the park is a "now-or-never" opportunity.

"Rail Deck Park is part of the City's efforts to protect our residents' quality of life and Toronto's competitive advantage now and in the future," Tory said. 

If built, the park would span the rail corridor from Blue Jays Way to Bathurst Street, creating some 21 acres of green space in the middle of the city. However staff also suggest the possibility of first tackling a section from Spadina Avenue to the bright yellow "Puente de Luez" pedestrian bridge at the foot of Portland Street. That section that staff identify as a priority would cost some $872 million to build.

'Last remaining site' for a major park, staff say

Downtown tracks for rail deck park

A view of the tracks as they look now, facing east from Bathurst Street. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

City planners say Toronto hasn't kept up when it comes to providing park space in a downtown exploding with development. The explosive growth isn't expected to stop, staff say, with current projections estimating between 140,000 and 180,000 living units could be added by 2041.

Land prices are a big reason why.

"Typical land acquisition costs for free and unencumbered properties in the western area of downtown Toronto range between $95 and $115 million per acre," the report stated.

"The rail corridor area is the last remaining site suitable for a major park."

City won't raise taxes to pay for park

The city plans to use several different pools of money to pay for the bridge, including development charges, potential investments from the federal and provincial governments as well as commercial contributions.  

"Today's staff report demonstrates that this vision is both necessary and feasible, and can be largely paid for through the growth that continues to happen in our city," Tory said in his statement.

City staff will also consult with experts on the field about how to structure the financing. Once set, that plan will go to council for a "definitive commitment" to the project.

The city also has plans to launch a community stakeholder advisory group, and will also be looking at the option of soliciting sponsorships and donations.

Report questions whether developers own air rights

Rail deck park rendering

The city plans to seek out donations and corporate partners to help pay for the future park. (City of Toronto)

Last week, a city committee voted to move ahead with zoning the air above the busy rail lines as parkland. Next up, ironing out technical details before an environmental assessment can begin.

The report also briefly touches on who owns the air rights over the rail tracks. One condo developer, P.I.T.S. Developments Inc., says it purchased the rights and has been working on a plan to build a mix of condos, offices and park land on the site. However the city appears to dispute that ownership claim in its report.

"The owners registered on title for these properties are Canadian National Railway Company (CN) and The Toronto Terminals Railway Company Limited (TTR)," it noted.

A legal review found four organizations own the rail deck land itself: Metrolinx, the city, CN and TTR.

The report notes transactions to acquire or give up land can be "highly complex," so this could also be an issue to watch in the future.